Jasper County school board meetings just got awkward.
On April 7, Superintendent Vashti Washington sued school board member Randy Horton, claiming he has worked to destroy her reputation by claiming that she falsified documents, conspired to have fraudulent bids filed and committed other illegal acts. According to the lawsuit, Horton's behavior influenced the federal investigation of the school district by the FBI, IRS and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.
Also in the lawsuit, Washington claims Horton has "medical problems that do not enable him to logically conclude the truth of many matters."
Horton, who has his own lawsuit pending against the school district for failing to provide him with certain documents, has 30 days from the date Washington's lawsuit was filed to respond.
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This isn't the first sign of tension between the two. During Washington's evaluation by the board late last year, Horton questioned Washington about the existence of her doctorate degree.
Washington, who is listed on the district's website as completing her Ed.D. in educational leadership and administration from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she did indeed have a doctorate. "You were here when I was hired," Washington said, according to media reports. "I came with all my credentials."
We suspect the outcome of the ongoing federal investigation will serve as the ultimate judge and jury for both Washington's and Horton's claims.
As part of the investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office of South Carolina asked that the district maintain and not destroy certain information including financial documents, employment files for the superintendent and other administrators and correspondence between employees. Several district employees have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
As is typical, federal officials have been mum on what they're looking for. It could take months before the investigation concludes and the results are released to the public.
In the meantime, we hope both parties, the other school board members and district employees will not let the legal drama distract from their shared purpose of helping students reach their full potential. Such discord among those who should have the common goal of educating students could easily lead to board members taking sides, unproductive school board meetings and loss of time on task.
That would be a shame, particularly in a district that continues to struggle with low scores on federal accountability measures and would be well-served by attracting additional volunteers similar to current ones who hail from Beaufort County. These local folks donate books, buy school uniforms and, most importantly, give of their time, spending hours in district schools, serving as mentors and tutors.
Potential volunteers are more likely to become involved if they're confident students are the district's focus -- even if the adults aren't getting along. Let's hope district officials will ensure that's the case.